Editor’s note: The following contains minor spoilers about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the aquatic adversary known as Namor wastes no time in establishing himself as one of those beguiling but odd characters that can polarize audiences: the sea-dwelling deity uses conch shells like smartphones and has feathered wings to his ankle.
But as Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía portrays in this brooding sequel to 2018’s ‘Black Panther,’ Namor also wields considerable gravity as the amphibious leader of an underwater tribe, and deserves more than the inevitable comparisons he’s made to his counterpart DC is obtained, Aquaman. (CNN, DC Films, and Warner Bros, which produced Aquaman, are part of the same parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Historically, DC predates Marvel with nearly all of its legacy characters on the pages of the comics that made them famous: Superman (1938) long preceded Iron Man (1963), Batman (1939) preceded Moon Knight (1975) , Wonder Woman (1941) before Captain Marvel (1968) and so on. It is the ultimate irony that Namor is only now appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as he is one of the few Marvel Comics characters to have come first.
Namor, also known as the Sub-Mariner, first appeared in comics in 1939, while DC’s Aquaman debuted in 1941. On the big screen, of course, the opposite is true: DC managed to beat Marvel in the realm of underwater superheroes by releasing Aquaman in 2018 and introducing the character played by Jason Momoa in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice two years earlier. What’s more, “Aquaman” remains one of DC’s biggest hits: the film has grossed over $335 million over its lifetime, according to Box Office Mojo, and a sequel is set to follow next year.
Marvel and Wakanda Forever director Ryan Coogler So they had their work cut out to ensure that Namor and his world created a wow factor while at the same time differing enough from what had previously been done, which was in Aquaman. And to the new film’s credit, it appears many if not all of the sequences showing the underwater kingdom of Talokan — complete with commoners playing water polo games and hanging out on benches — use real underwater photography and divers, as opposed to CGI.
In Mejía — who is billed as “featured” in “Wakanda Forever” despite over 70 credits in Mexican cinema in 15 years as well as last year’s “The Forever Purge” — Marvel Thank goodness it has found its own dynamic anchor in this new underwater world. The character’s menacing presence and intimidating presence is only tempered by the vulnerability, even torture, in his expression, adding another element distinct from the quirky and tongue-in-cheek nature of Momoa’s aquatic superhero.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also had the daunting task of presenting Namor’s origins in a way that contrasted with those in Aquaman to make a film that isn’t just meant to serve as an origin story.
Both Namor and Aquaman claim mythical Atlantis as their place of origin in their respective comic book source material – and DC used Atlantis as the setting for “Aquaman” four years ago – so There was a good opportunity to change things up when it came to Namor’s backstory in Wakanda Forever. The change comes through Talokan, Namor’s home realm inspired by Mesoamerican, indigenous Central and South American mythology. Switching to this Mayan and Aztec-based setting allows the film to explore colonial histories that are much more grounded in reality, much like the original Black Panther also touched on Africa’s historical struggle with colonizers.
Probably, the most notable departure from Namor’s comics origin comes in a revelation made in the movie: The aquatic super being appears to be the result of a tribal ritual involving the use of a mystical herb, similar to how the Black Panther manifests. (Aquaman, on the other hand, gets his superpowers from a parent of royal Atlantean heritage.) But then, The film goes even further – on the eve of Phase V of the MCU’s Grand Master Plan, Namor states in no uncertain terms that he is “a mutant,” a clear siren’s call of things to come, with the mutant X-Men – previously inhabiting a separate 20th Century Fox franchise – which will soon be included in the MCU fold.
But before that happens, and thanks to Mejía’s nuanced performance in Wakanda Forever, Namor should be able to avoid many more comparisons to other oceanic demigods and ride his own wave into the future.